Great Britain gained a credit pass in the first real test of their
life-or-death tour with a 28-12 win over Newcastle at Newcastle International
Sports Centre yesterday.
But in winning they failed to reassure those who fear for the future of
international Rugby League.
New Zealand coach Tony Gordon, who was there to look at New Zealand
second-rower Sam Shephard, said: "Australia will tear their hearts out."
There were some positive signs.
This team is undoubtedly more committed and professional than the 1984
tourists and would walk over hot Newcastle coals for coach Malcolm Reilly.
They have one indisputably top-class forward in prop Kevin Ward, whose
talents are well known to Sydney fans.
His fellow pack members yesterday were hard, if colourless, workers.
Andy Gregory is in the great tradition of skilful and pugnacious English
halfbacks and would have been a good sparring partner for Tommy Raudonikis in
The backs have all the requisite pace, although wing speedster Martin
Offiah won't get the room against top sides that he received yesterday.
These visitors are also fit.
Where they fall down is again in the areas in which Australia have leapt
ahead - discipline and defence.
For example, the Englishmen were pulled up six times for forward passes
and had only rudimentary attacking and defensive patterns compared with Sydney
Still, Reilly was satisfied that the Lions will improve.
"We did the basics fairly well but our finishing left a little bit to be
desired," he said.
"The forwards laid a good foundation but we could have given the ball a
bit more air."
The chirpy Gregory was very chipper and positive.
"We're more professional than last time (in 1984) and drilled to a
routine," he said.
"The team spirit, commitment and discipline is much better."
Gregory was mightily impressed by Tuesday's State of Origin match.
"The defence was tremendous," he said.
"It was the hardest defensive game I've ever seen."
Had it dented the English confidence? "If we didn't think we could win
no-one would have come over," he said.
Was Offiah the fastest player he had seen?
"After me," the gamecock said. "I don't know. I've only seen his back."
Newcastle saw a bit of Offiah's back yesterday but the Knights looked like
giving the tour an early goodnight when Sam Stewart sent prop Brett Shore on a
stroll for the line in the 13th minute.
Ward scored off a Gregory bomb but England showed much more authority when
Ward, hooker Kevin Beardmore and Gregory combined to send Offiah in to finish a
60m movement near half-time.
Those nagging fears returned when first Tony Kemp plunged over in the
corner and a lofted Stewart pass sent winger Glen Miller on his way to pull
Newcastle up to 12-12 soon after the break.
Another Offiah sprint and two tries to skipper Ellery Hanley allowed the
visitors to skip away but it wasn't inspiring stuff.
Full marks for effort but there's a lot of work to do.
Ward will be the linchpin in the forwards. Gregory is the team's playmaker
and Garry Schofield will add solidarity to the pacy, if erratic, movers in the
backline. Shore, Stewart and Glen Frendo were the best Novocastrians
Gordon, an impartial observer, deserves the last word.
"Judging by the State of Origin, they (Great Britain) could be for
trouble," he said.
"Newcastle let them off the hook.
"The tour gets tougher. They'll improve a lot but they wouldn't want to be
playing Manly or Australia on that performance.
"If the Tests are played on top of the ground they'll have to adapt
quickly to that football.
"They didn't adapt too well today."
Harsh judgments perhaps, but the doubts are unresolved.
GREAT BRITAIN 28 (Offiah 2 Hanley 2 Ward tries; P Loughlin 4 goals) bt
NEWCASTLE 12 (B Shore T Kemp G Miller tries). Crowd: 8,970. Referee: G McCallum.